Ajax advances to Champions League knockout round with 3-1 victory in Dortmund
Ajax secured the top spot in Group C and a place in the knockout phase of the Champions League after four group matches. The Amsterdam club won their away match against Borussia Dortmund by a final score of 1-3, overcoming a one goal deficit late in the match against a home team that played with ten men for over an hour.
“Very nice: Four games. Twelve points," said captain Dusan Tadic. He scored the equalizer in the 72nd minute. "With these fans, anything is possible."
Mats Hummels was shown the red card in the 29th minute for a hard foul on Antony. The 32-year-old defender slid hard into the Brazilian's ankle close to the halfway line. The English referee, Michael Oliver, did not hesitate for a moment and sent Hummels off the field.
Eight minutes later, Oliver did not spot the moment that Noussair Mazraoui came into contact with Jude Bellingham in the penalty area. He was alerted to the incident by the video referee and viewed the moment again from the sidelines. After a review, he awarded a penalty kick to Borussia Dortmund. Marco Reus scored from the spot to put the home team ahead. Goalkeeper Remko Pasveer chose the correct angle, but was a few centimeters short.
Pasveer had his hands full during a moment in the first half when his defender Lisandro Martínez slipped, but Bellingham’s resulting shot was headed wide. Dortmund allowed Ajax much less space than in their last duel two weeks ago at the Johan Cruijff ArenA. Nevertheless, the visitors from Amsterdam also had opportunities. Sébastien Haller saw his shot blocked, Steven Berghuis shot just wide, and Ryan Gravenberch’s effort was stopped by keeper Gregor Knobel. Just before the end of the half, Martínez and Berghuis were close to equalizing.
Trainer Erik ten Hag made an offensive change immediately after the break sending in Davy Klaassen for Edson Älvarez, who is suspended for the next Champions League match against Besiktas. With the midfielder in the ranks, Ajax started to surround the penalty area of the home team, which is currently in second place in the Bundesliga.
Klaassen and Haller nearly made it 1-1, but whatever Ajax initially tried, Dortmund was there to defend. That changed when Dusan Tadic scored on a pass from Antony. He struck the equalizer home as he slid hard into the goal post. Tadic slid crotch-first into the post on his goal. That led him the attacker to grimace in pain. Afterwards, he said that he no longer felt any soreness in that sensitive spot. "I'm fine, I'm strong there," he chuckled.
Tadic was very dissatisfied with Ajax's game before half-time. "We played very badly in the first half. We were sloppy and lost the ball too easily. That was not our familiar game. Things went better after the break. We played faster and were calmer on the ball. It was very important that we got to 1-1."
Sébastien Haller then scored the go-ahead goal (1-2) in the 83rd minute. Substitute Davy Klaassen put the final nail in the coffin in injury time. Antony assisted on all three strikes.
It was the first time Ajax won all four of its first group stage matches in the Champions League. Defender Noussair Mazraoui was enthusiastic after the victory. "The fourth win in a row in the Champions League. Nobody expected that we could do this, but we knew it was possible," he told RTL7. "We have shown that we can also play football with heart. That we can fight. Even if it doesn't work out, we don't let our heads hang low, but we persevere. It doesn't always have to be with beautiful football."
Ajax can relax a bit during its two remaining group matches against Besiktas and Sporting Portugal, though revenue from the Champions League could increase further. Ajax has already earned 65 million euros in the premier competition this season.
Reporting by ANP.